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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Rangers' struggles cause for concern's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Here is the Oct. 25 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday throughout the 2017-18 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

What is going on with the New York Rangers? Still early, but who's to blame here and what can they do to right the ship? -- @HeyimbanuPeter

These are loaded questions for the 2-6-2 Rangers. I don't think there is a definitive answer for any of them. That's why I question if the Rangers will be able to fight their way back into the Stanley Cup Playoff race. Are they going through an early-season slump, or is this just what they are this season? They've played about 12 percent of their games and they have two wins. It's already getting late.

I'm based out of the New York area, so I see the Rangers more than I see the other 30 teams. When you watch them consistently, you see their glaring issues. The blame is collective. It goes around to everybody. The most notable issue they have is how they're starting games. They've allowed the first goal within the first 2:40 of the first period in five of their 10 games, and are consistently chasing games. That's a tough way to win, especially when you're not finishing on Grade A chances at 5-on-5 and your power play is generating looks but rarely scores. The Rangers are 4-for-32 on the power play in the past eight games. And that's all on offense. The Rangers quickly lose their structure in the defensive zone, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist is allowing one or more, quote-unquote, soft goals per game. 

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said the problems are not personnel-based. He's defending his players. He's not going to throw them under the bus. However, the Rangers' lack of depth at center is glaring, so much so that Vigneault has dressed three the past two games, choosing to play seven defensemen instead. That's a personnel problem. The players they needed to get more out of, including forwards Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich and defenseman Brady Skjei, are not delivering enough. The Rangers have gotten nine goals from those six players. Again, that's personnel. Forward Rick Nash has one goal despite tying for the Rangers lead with 39 shots. He's been around the net all season, generating great looks, but he hasn't finished on them. Mika Zibanejad, the No. 1 center, has two points at even strength. Mats Zuccarello is minus-11. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh has not been consistent in all three zones.

I could go on with guilty parties, because that's what happens when a team is struggling like the Rangers. I don't know if they'll be able to work their way out of it.

Video: SJS@NYR: Jones comes up with three outstanding saves


How do you fix the Washington Capitals? Is it just a matter of getting Matt Niskanen back? -- @gdohlke79

Getting the defenseman back in the lineup will be a huge boost to the Capitals, especially because fixing their depth at that position is essential to putting them back on the right path. However, Niskanen is on long-term injured reserve with an upper-body injury and the earliest he can return is against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 7. He's out for at least the next six games, so the Capitals need to go about solving their issues without him.

The one thing the Capitals can do that is in their control is limit the penalties they're taking. Washington is killing an average of 4.33 penalties per game and is 76.9 percent on the PK, which was 23rd in the NHL entering play Tuesday. They are shorthanded too often, including 11 times in the past two games. They're not good enough defensively to withstand being shorthanded that often. Losing defenseman Karl Alzner (Montreal Canadiens) and forward Daniel Winnik (Minnesota Wild) off their PK has been problematic. The Capitals finished seventh on the PK last season at 83.8 percent.

The defensive depth will have to be addressed. It was known League-wide that was going to be an issue for the Capitals. They lost Alzner and Nate Schmidt in the offseason and were hoping to replace them with younger, inexperienced players. Losing Niskanen exposes that weakness even more. They want to give Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Aaron Ness more time, but in doing so they are they making John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik play heavy minutes, especially with Niskanen out. Carlson is averaging 26:43 per game; Orlov is averaging 23:53; and Orpik, who should probably average around 16 minutes per game at this point in his career, is up to 21:49 because of the lack of depth. That could eventually become an issue too.

Video: WSH@CAR: Niskanen fires wrister past Darling


Could you see the Tampa Bay Lightning trading Andrej Sustr to a team like the Washington Capitals? -- @BoltsGuy04

That's a realistic scenario. The defenseman would be a short-term help for the Capitals because he can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He's not expensive either, with a $1.95 million NHL salary cap charge. The Capitals probably wouldn't have to give up too much to get him either. The fact that he's a right-handed defenseman helps too. The righties in Washington are Carlson, Niskanen and Bowey. It could work.

Even with that said, I question if Sustr would be a significant enough upgrade for the Capitals. They need a proven top-four defenseman. Sustr isn't that. They especially need a proven top-four defenseman signed beyond this season because Carlson is a pending UFA. Sustr is a good enough defenseman to use on a third pair, but I think he'd be prone to costly mistakes if given an increased role with heavier minutes.

Video: MIN@TBL: Sustr rips home one-timer from Kucherov


If you were given carte blanche as any general manager, what perfect trade/move would you make to satisfy each team involved? -- @briantodd34

We have a trade to announce. The Colorado Avalanche trade Matt Duchene and [insert your mid-round draft pick here] to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Gabriel Carlsson, Sonny Milano and [insert your late-round draft pick here]. 

The Blue Jackets are in win-now mode and they need another top center. Nick Foligno is better suited to play on the wing, in my opinion. Duchene is signed through next season with a $6 million salary cap charge. This isn't a rental add. They will be going for it this season, but he'll be around for at least next season too. The one concern would be the cap ramifications for next season. Forward Cam Atkinson can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. He deserves a raise, and Columbus shouldn't let him go. Defenseman Jack Johnson can also become an unrestricted free agent after this season. But the Blue Jackets become a better team right away by getting Duchene. They should be thinking about the Stanley Cup.

For Colorado, getting Carlsson is the coup. He's a 20-year-old defenseman with top-pair potential. He has the size (6-foot-5, 192 pounds), mobility and skills teams covet in young defensemen. Milano would add to Colorado's already young forward depth. The other player the Avalanche could look at to get this done would be forward Oliver Bjorkstrand. The key for the Avalanche is getting at least two young players who could be part of their developing core.

Video: COL@DAL: Duchene snipes one top-shelf past Bishop


Do you think the Toronto Maple Leafs will use Mitch Marner in a potential trade for a top-six defenseman this season? -- @Final20Hockey

I wouldn't rule it out, but I'm hesitant. I don't think the Maple Leafs are ready yet to trade one of their top young players for what could be a short-term replacement at a position of need. As much as they're winning and the pressure to stay on top will grow as the season moves along, the Maple Leafs are still evaluating players, including defensemen Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman. They won't send Marner away to plug a hole that might eventually be able to be plugged by a player in house unless they can get someone on defense who equals Marner's value up front.

However, the Maple Leafs will eventually have to figure out how their future salary cap structure will shake out with forward William Nylander due a new contract after this season and forward Auston Matthews and Marner up for a new contract after next season. Matthews is going to get huge money. We can and should all agree on that. The Maple Leafs have the potential to have forwards Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov coming off their cap after this season. Each can become a UFA. That's potential savings there, but those are valuable players who if not re-signed must be replaced. That costs money too. 

Don't be fooled by the role Marner is playing now on the Maple Leafs' fourth line. They value his talent, skill and production greatly. Coach Mike Babcock said he needs Marner to become a star after Marner had two assists in Toronto's 3-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday. Babcock is right, for two reasons: 1) If Marner becomes a star, the Maple Leafs get better; 2) If Marner becomes a star, his trade value goes up. Both matter.

Video: TOR@WPG: Marner shovels home rebound for PPG


Which offseason trade has been the most beneficial to its corresponding team so far this season? -- @k_corpstein

There are a few that so far look one-sided, but that's partially based on the return being mostly draft picks and/or prospects. For instance, defenseman Travis Hamonic and goalie Mike Smith have so far looked like great fits with the Calgary Flames, and defenseman Marc Methot has fit in fine with the Dallas Stars. For now it looks like the St. Louis Blues got a steal in their trade with the Philadelphia Flyers because Brayden Schenn has been strong as a second-line center playing 20 minutes per game. Forward Jori Lehtera, who went to the Flyers, was scratched for the first six games before playing the past three. That trade is still difficult to evaluate because the Flyers also got the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and a conditional 2018 first-round pick from the Blues. (They chose center Morgan Frost with the No. 27 pick). The Blues can defer the 2018 pick to 2019 if it happens to be a top-10 selection. Judging by how they've played, it won't be.

Video: NSH@CHI: Saad taps in game-winning goal in OT

The trade that seems to have benefitted both teams is the one between the Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks that featured forwards Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad. Panarin has yet to find his goal-scoring groove, but he's generating offense and picking up assists. Saad has been terrific and has helped reignite center Jonathan Toews' offensive game. In addition, goalie Anton Forsberg, who also went to Chicago in the trade, has looked like a capable backup to Corey Crawford in his two starts. He doesn't have a win but is 0-0-2 with a .929 save percentage.

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